"Low Visibility" & Other Poems

Low Visibility

The silent mock of pre-dawn quiet is
God putting me in time-out.
On mornings when the asphalt steams
after 3 AM showers, fog
surges from the ground like smoke
or water skipping a hot skillet,
lulls me into a game of
“What ifs.”

What if I were the last
one here? What if
there were nothing left
except the bitter espresso
on my tongue,
nothing left but that damn crack
in the upper corner of my windshield
webbing out with the colder nights,
the wipers’ almost unnoticeable stutter
over the uneven glass?

The breathing mist
slipknots itself around the car,
its heaviness muffling
the stumble of my engine
and my early morning prayer,
and I wait for a break
in the moth-grey vapor,
for a chance to steal that breath,
to let it melt on my tongue
like an after-dinner mint.

Drunken Monologue From An Alcoholic Father’s Oldest Daughter

My friends say I should have been a therapist and it ain’t funny
no more. I ain’t seen a dollar of pay for this labor, all my pretending—
who do I see about my check? My father says I just need somebody
to talk to
when he calls. He’s sitting in our house alone
looking at old pictures and drinking. I still love my wife, I still love
my wife
. And if I answer the phone, I gotta be the mother

he missed out on as a kid. I pick up and I gotta turn on a mother’s
softness. But I ain’t gave birth to nothing. Never felt that funny
feeling of my second self latching on to the first. How do you love
something that looks right through you? You gotta pretend,
act like you understand. My father says I spent Christmas alone
for the first time in my life
and man I swear somebody

needs to give me an Oscar for the way I sounded like somebody’s
momma. Said God gon’ work it out. But I know my mother
did the right thing. Left him. My brother and sister were alone
with him for hours while she was gone, and I, you know, I just felt funny
about it. And the way my father would call me pretending
he was the victim when I knew what it really was. Maybe we all loved

the chaos a little bit, having a place to put the blame. Maybe I loved
the way they needed me. But I ain’t love the pressure. Somebody
told me that I was the glue that held it all together. Now I gotta pretend
that’s a compliment, I gotta “ha-ha” and “he-he” when they call me “mother
2.0.” I laugh and say I don’t even need kids anymore but what’s so funny
about that, a hatred that spreads to the womb? I’ve had a lot of alone

time to wonder about the choices my father makes. Being alone
over rehab, over family. Sometimes I say that motherfucker don’t love
to myself in the mirror real tough. And I keep saying it until it’s funny,
until I’m laughing and then I’m crying and then I sound like somebody
dying when I start coughing from both. Sometimes I ask my mother
what happened to him and she just says it’s sad. Most times, I pretend

I feel the same and I “mhm” on the phone but this time I can’t pretend
no more. I say momma I know you feel bad for leaving him alone
but it was the right thing to do.
I say you did what any mother
would have done.
I say the kids know you did it out of love,
to protect them.
She silent, so I say momma he could have killed somebody
and she says hardy-har-har, real funny. But just how funny

if we ain’t laughing? I want to say something in the silence, something funny,
but I know my mother wants to be left alone when she pretends
to yawn. So I tell her I love her. And I don’t remember who hangs up. Somebody.

My Father’s Love Letter

You’d had a drink, I’m sure, a midday buzz
enough to make you fix your epitaph
in ink and mail it, plain as a postcard. Your

handwriting: teenage cursive spread across
two pages like some high school love note, folded
in fours and slipped between a locker’s gills.

Perhaps you should have drawn in the margins, squiggled
elementary hearts with arrows, dressed this whole
thing up as if it weren’t goodbye for good.

Stay humble, be true to yourself reads like Take care
when I’m gone.

At the bottom of the envelope, I fish
out a dog tag engraved with two shadows,
a father and daughter holding hands,

the metal cool as a razor between my fingers.
And when I mail it back, you call and say nothing
about wanting to die, or the divorce. Just repeating

the same thing, as if I were the one that called
and got your voicemail, your voice skipping over and over—
so you don’t love me, now?

Taylor Byas

is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is now a third year PhD student and Yates scholar at the University of Cincinnati, and an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus. She was the 1st place winner of both the 2020 Poetry Super Highway and the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and a finalist for the 2020 Frontier OPEN Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in Spring of 2023. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.

All contributions from Taylor Byas

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